Carmen: a ballet about jealousy born of… jealousy

Renée “Zizi” Jeanmarie and Roland Petit met as children at the Paris Opéra Ballet school. Artistic soul mates, the two also fell in love at an early age. However, the union was volatile, with Roland becoming involved with other dancers when he was away from Zizi. To prove his devotion and love for his muse, jealous of his brief romance with Margot Fonteyn, he created for Zizi what would become their signature work: the ballet Carmen.

Zizi was his muse, but when Margot Fonteyn entered the scene, the French dancer didn’t like it. After all, the romance between Roland and Margot was intense, and public and resulted in the creation of a work that revealed a sensual Fonteyn for the first time. It was too much for her.

Zizi gave her an ultimatum: either her boyfriend created something for her and ended the romance with the Englishwoman, or it was all over. Roland, perceptive as ever, saw an undeniable parallel with the engaging Carmen. Thus was born one of the most innovative ballets in history, making Zizi a legend and one of the greatest choreographers of all time.

It should always be noted that if today Carmen is modern, imagine that this work is from 1949. That’s right, 72 years ago the dancers smoked on stage, the dances had a sexual connotation and Zizi shocked the world with her short hair, like a man’s. What’s more, she only danced in a corset, which was practically naked on stage.

Carmen‘s music is obviously taken from Georges Bizet’s opera, rich in melodies and rhythms. Roland reduced the plot to a few frames, fast-forwarding the sickening involvement between the gypsy Carmen and the soldier Don José. As in the opera, she seduces him into a life of crime, only to leave him for another man. Mad with jealousy, José confronts and kills her in one of the most violent scenes seen on stage.

With mime, singing, and innovative dramatic dancing, Petit’s Carmen is (still) incredible. Antoni Clavé‘s costumes and sets are rich in color and detail, yet simple and spacious at the same time. The script follows the work of Prosper Mérimée, from 1845. I read the book and the essence of Carmen is captured by Zizi like few others. The gypsy was almost cruel in her determination to be a free woman but trapped by her destiny, exposed in tarot cards. Respecting that her death would be violent and at the hands of José, Carmen does not avoid or seek alternatives to change the game. She is a fascinating and strong character.

Roland Petit danced the role of Don José at the premiere, alongside Zizi, and the two later filmed the work. In the late 70s, Mikhail Baryshnikov danced alongside Zizi, still stunning in the same role 30 years later. Maya Plissetskaya and Alicia Alonso did another version of the ballet later, but it is Roland Petit‘s choreography that is the most famous.

Some details were curious. The aria known as Habanera, which is Carmen’s entry into the opera, became Don José’s variation. The solo performance of the gypsy is the song in which she seduces the soldier, Près des ramparts de Seville. The scene of the two in the bedroom uses the beautiful opening melody of the third act and, the final fight, is transformed into a bullfight, with Carmen being slaughtered. Everything about Carmen is superlative. Review some excerpts below.


1 comentário Adicione o seu

Deixe um comentário

Preencha os seus dados abaixo ou clique em um ícone para log in:

Logo do

Você está comentando utilizando sua conta Sair /  Alterar )

Foto do Facebook

Você está comentando utilizando sua conta Facebook. Sair /  Alterar )

Conectando a %s